Life on the Road: A Touring Band’s American Adventure [Vol 3: Taos, New Mexico]

I’m sure Texas is an amazing place.  We had a great time playing in Austin, and unbeatable Mexican food, but morale was low and we weren’t sure this drive was worth it.  It had been hours and hours since the scenery had changed, and it seemed as though the farther west we drove, the more awful the view became.  Scary, smoking natural gas wells blew black clouds towards our van windows.  The yellow land threatened to eat up the road and our only way out of this place.  We drove through the world’s largest wind farm and felt like we were suddenly in Star Wars.  Six hundred and twenty seven giant, white wind turbines stood tall across 100,000 acres.  We accelerated towards a lightening storm and crossed our fingers that this would all end soon.

Driving into Taos was sort of like when Dorothy wakes up in Oz and everything is suddenly in color.  Beautiful adobe houses blended into the epic high desert and majestic mountains protected the wide valley.  “Mesa rats,” the retired wealthy, and hippies all share this place.  Still clinging to the land we took from them, Pueblo people cook fresh bread and tamales.  The air is dry and the sky is bright, and just being there is immensely refreshing.

We drove to Taos to play the Kannaroo Festival.  It was a one day event in Sunshine Valley, where the only reminder of civilization were the dusty cars everyone drove to get all the way out there on a dirt road.  The entire stage and listening area were built of recycled wood and donated parts. There were generators, but no water or electricity on the land.  All kinds of people came to listen: moms wearing sweaters, young women covered in dirt and tattoos, and children passing out water bottles.  The sound engineer did his mixing and level checking from inside a camping tent because it was so dusty.  We ate hot dogs and drank warm beer and got the whole audience dancing (which resulted in a dog fight!).

Most attendees stayed the night huddled up in tents, but we left after the gorgeous sunset to stay with some friends back closer to town.  We had the next day off, so we explored the local hang outs.  We (of course) stopped at TaoSound, a record store where we had played an intimate show the year before.  Full of amazing music and a wonderful staff, we make a point of stopping in whenever we’re in the area.  Our bass player even picked up the Miles Davis Complete Columbia Recordings.

We went out to dinner at Antonio’s, where the food was delicious and the ambiance was exactly what we were looking for.  Art lined the walls of the two dining rooms, which are restored rooms from the original hacienda.  The next day we picked up their vegetable oil waste and filtered it to use in our grease van!  You can’t beat having a meal and then recycling it to drive to the next stop.

Before we left, we decided to go on a bit of an adventure on the advice of the locals.  Along the Rio Grande, secret hot springs flow into perfect hot tub-sized pools.  If your car can take the incredibly bumpy and slightly scary drive there and your legs can take the hike down the mountain, I highly recommend it.  The warm pools are perfectly situated next to the cold river so you can jump in and out of them at will.

Big Tree is a courageous bunch, but sometimes not the brightest.  We hiked down the trail very fast in excitement, forgetting about the altitude and dryness.  By the time we got to the bottom, we had already drunk all our water and were quickly becoming dehydrated.  We then jumped into the freezing river and plunged into the hot springs, giving our bodies a shock.  In celebration, we lit up a joint that was quickly dropped and ruined, which was unfortunate since we had all left one hand out of the water in order not to get it wet.  Now we were stoned, dehydrated, and sunburned (not that we knew any of these things at the time).  The hike back up to the car was much more difficult than the exciting hike down, and once we finally reached the dirt parking lot we chugged what was left of the almost boiling water in the trunk.

There are remnants of an old bathhouse down by the springs.  Years ago, these springs used to flow into tubs for public enjoyment.  In the movie Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda use this bathhouse for a scene on their road trip.  According to local lore, after the movie was released the bathhouse became a hang spot for hippies and bikers.  Sadly, the two groups didn’t see eye to eye and fights and violence began to break out. It’s said that the city of Taos shut it down by dynamiting the roof off of the bathhouse, making it a less desirable destination.  Of course it didn’t stop the hippies, but it broke up the tension.


Kaila McIntyre-Bader is a freelance writer and a musician splitting her time between the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. Born and raised in San Rafael, California, Kaila received a Liberal Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Kaila lived in Cuba for four months, taking Biology, Spanish, and Opera Singing classes while learning how to smoke cigars and stay up all night. She has backpacked through Europe, traveled through Central America, volunteered for the Amigos Program in Panama, and toured extensively across the United States of America with her pop band Big Tree. When she’s not working as a waitress or teaching flute lessons to children, she is wandering the world and faithfully reporting back to readers all of her secrets and adventures.